For many organizations, the topic of strategic planning will soon be on the horizon. Either a new plan, a tune-up or a full-on revision. For the past 25 years, I’ve been leading the strategic planning process for a wide array of organizations and I’ve seen three common obstacles emerge.
First, the process is too drawn out. A good plan has a clear why, what, how, who, how much and by when defined. It’s really not more complicated. Sure, a lot of work needs to happen in advance, typically a SWOT analysis, in-depth interviews with key stakeholders, a clear set of industry and organizational imperatives defined, and solid objectives established. Get the heavy lifting done in advance, and you’ll accelerate the planning process by 50 percent. Shorter is better.
Second, most strategic plans lack ambition. Of course, every plan has a mission, key strategies, operational objectives, and so on. But ambition, that’s something altogether different. It’s what breathes life into the process and drives the success of the ultimate plan. Authors Haines and McKinlay expound on “going through the motions” in Reinventing Strategic Planning: The Systems Thinking Approach:
Vision and mission statements issued by top management all too frequently bear little relation to the day to day realities of an organization. As Intel’s CEO once said, “You look at corporate strategy statements, and a lot of them are such pap. You know how they go: ‘We’re going to be world-class this, and a leader in that, and we’re going to keep all our customers smiling.'” Yet nothing really changes.
Your strategic plan should be specific, aspirational and inspirational. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream before he had a plan.
Finally, the lack of accountability is what kills the progress of most plans. Tie your executives’ compensation, bonus and promotions to the operational success of the plan. Put teeth into it, and watch how fast it stops gathering dust and starts focusing everyone’s time, energy and resources.
After reading the book, The One Thing, I think differently about strategic planning. More importantly, it changed how our company created our strategic plan and how we advise others. Here are my top five (but not the only) key insights:
Top 5 Insights
- Start by asking the question, “What’s the ONE thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” This is the central question posed by the authors of The One Thing. This will get the ball rolling in a new direction.
- Limit your priorities to five, for example:
- Culture—We know culture eats strategy for lunch, but it also serves as the center of gravity for everything you do.
- People—Get the right people on the bus, train them, reward them and grow them.
- Revenue—Maximize your revenue, be as profitable as possible and invest wisely.
- Value proposition—Think about why you matter to your constituents, how to stay relevant and remain a step ahead.
- Customers or members—Know everything about them, be relentless, never be satisfied and never stop learning how to serve them better.
- Allocate all time, resources and money that you’ll invest in the strategies, people, actions and outcomes to your five priorities. Decide what you will stop doing, by when and what the consequence would be if you continued. Nothing new is started unless either something is stopped or you add resources. It’s OK to add resources if they deliver on your plan.
- Limit the plan to five pages.
- Measure progress every month and have a plan on how to do that. Report the results and false starts, adapt as needed and stay focused.
A strategic plan is like the SAT (remember?): it’s really important, it has an impact on your future, it’s difficult and it’s best to get someone to help you to prepare for success.
For additional resources and help with your strategic plan, start by examining our 9 Ps of Event Marketing Framework.